Thoughts from Europe
By Dr. Nick Thompson
Dogs have eaten meat for thousands of years. I do not think anyone could dispute this. They are not obligate carnivores, like cats, but they have been eating herbivore flesh-rich diets even before humans first made fire and stone weapons.
Raw food, species appropriate, feeding is once again becoming popular. Is it the best way to feed? Is the domestic dog still wild at heart? Is scientifically formulated dried food the new answer to all our nutritional problems?
Arguments for raw food include increased health, fewer vet bills, greater satisfaction at meal times, better stamina and athleticism, smaller, less smelly, more ‘pickupable’ stools and ease of feeding…the list goes on. But how does it stand up against the industry standard, kibble?
Concerns about bacterial and parasite contamination, balanced nutrition, bones getting stuck and the expense of raw food need to be addressed.
The prime argument, however incorrect, against species appropriate feeding in dogs is the risk of picking up infections from raw meat. Kibble is sterilised and generally has a low level of contamination. Raw meat, or complete raw foods containing raw meat, are frozen in production and storage, diminishing disease organisms to minimal, often zero levels. Actually, in the UK, infectious agents in raw dog food are better regulated than human food! Worldwide, there are many more reports of human and animal infection from kibble than from raw food by a factor of hundreds.
‘Complete and balanced’ is a phrase meaning meals contain all required nutrients at approved levels when fed. This is easy to do with a ultra-processed, high starch kibble because every single element of the diet can be manipulated to give the approved ‘scientifically formulated’ end result. Raw food producers, on the other hand, even though they are able to manipulate the food less, can use technology and science to create diets that meet FEDIAF, the European pet food industry watchdog, standards.
Many critics of raw food, when trying to denigrate the practice, quote from the 2013 review ‘Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats’, that appeared in the prestigious Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The review quotes four papers on bone obstruction in pets, totalling 229 cats and dogs. The word ‘raw’ is not mentioned anywhere, suggesting that most foreign body blockage cases studied were not due to raw bones.
Bones are generally very beneficial to the gut, teeth and mind of pet and working dogs. Problems are rare. Kibble does not clean teeth, contrary to popular myth.
The same goes for bloat, dilation and stomach rotation in dogs; most cases are not associated with raw food feeding. By far the majority are fed kibble-based diets. A colleague of mine tells a story of dealing routinely with an Old English Shepherd rescue at his practice. He eventually persuaded them to put all the dogs on raw. His income from bloat cases from the rescue all but dried up.
The hassle and cost of raw are always a contender when I talk to clients and give talks on raw food nutrition. But they need not be. Kibble is the ultimate convenience food. That is why it is the world’s most popular method of feeding. But convenience has nothing to do with nutrition, it’s a sales pitch to the consumer!
Nowadays, there are dozens of producers supplying excellent complete and balanced frozen raw food meals. Just Google ‘complete and balanced raw foods for dogs’, to see the options. Raw food is now as convenient as kibble!
‘Completes’ an excellent way to start feeding raw to your dog, they’re convenient, nutritious and reassuring to the newbie feeder. Prices for quality raw foods match prices, per meal, of the mid- to upper ranges of the kibble market. You get what you pay for. You cannot expect Range Rover performance if all you buy is 2-stoke fuel, after all.
But raw food is not for everyone. Some dogs, if they have been on high-carb foods (all kibbles, grain-free or otherwise) all their lives, cannot maintain weight initially when moved onto quality raw. Some dogs, and they are rare, can’t cope with the new texture and flavours. Labradors, needless to say, are rarely in this group. If you cannot bring yourself to go the whole hog and go raw, then moving up the ‘spectrum of nutrition’ is the key – feed the best kibble you can, or introduce some raw meat once or twice alongside the kibble.
Kibbles go from super-economy to ultra-premium brands. If you are set on kibble, look around for producers who are careful when sourcing raw ingredients. Low-temperature processing is another desirable feature. Also, when you buy kibble, buy quantities you will get through quickly, from a wholesaler with a good turnover of diets to ensure freshness.
There are, as with everything, pros and cons to raw food and kibble feeding. Look at the arguments for both. Consider both. You, and your dog are, after all, what you both eat.